Home Studio Recordist
Kevin Hook describes his home recording set-up.
This series welcomes contributions from you, the reader, about your home studio set-up, recording techniques and adventures in the studio. This month we feature Kevin Hook, whose studio is based upon the ever popular Fostex A-8 eight track recorder.
Over the past four years I've dabbled in home taping, progressing from an old sound-on-sound machine, through a Portastudio, to the present Fostex eight track system.
As far as home recording is concerned, I consider eight track to be the limit. The reasoning behind this is because I feel it provides the closet musician with such versatility in so many practical applications that an investment in extra outboard gear or instruments would be, in the long run, wiser than taking the rather more tentative and expensive step towards sixteen track.
As I've already mentioned, the centrepiece of the recording equipment is the Fostex A-8 with accompanying 350 mixer. Up until recently I'd been using my Teac A4010 for mastering and echo, which can obviously pose problems at the mixdown stage. (More of the solution later on.) Despite being a rather old machine, the Teac does its job surprisingly well, without any real need for noise reduction systems.
Upon the arrival of a nice new bank loan this week, I've decided to stick with my old Teac rather than follow what seems to be a time-honoured tradition, and invest in a Revox. The Teac incidentally is the only piece of gear I've retained from those early sound-on-sound experimental days - basically because it's so reliable.
As far as monitoring is concerned, I've also decided to stick with the old hi-fi system - which again is reliable and consistent. It is by no means perfect, but I know roughly what its weak and strong (very few of these I'm afraid) points are, and can therefore compensate for them when mixed demos are to be played back on superior systems. I also use a battered pair of Pye car radio speakers for contrast.
Generally, if I can get a reasonable sound on these then the results are alright on portable cassettes etc; and lets face it, the average radio speaker is no better than the Pye's and the majority of finished work will be played back over similar items.
Onto the effects now. I've put the A4010 into semi-retirement, only emerging from the background to make an appearance for recording a finished piece. It's been replaced by the new Boss DE200 digital delay. I was attracted to this particular unit partly because of the long delay time (the slightly narrower bandwidth than comparative units isn't really noticeable at all), partly because of the modest price, but mainly for the trigger facility it offers from a rhythm unit. This appears to open so many doors and also provides an easy introduction to digital sampling. However it seems a shame that Roland couldn't have provided a simple on/off switch for this facility - I imagine in time it could prove a constant source of frustration if a plug had been inadvertently left and forgotten in the offending input, preventing the unit from operating normally in the 'delay' mode.
I've always relied quite heavily on effects - perhaps relied is the wrong word — I've always liked the sound of instruments and voices with effects on them. That's closer to what I'm trying to get at, but it doesn't sound right does it?
Another new addition to my effects set up is the Ibanez HD1000 harmonizer, though I haven't had enough time to get to grips with it yet. I bought it because I wanted something I could use for chorus and flanging while the Boss was in use. Despite the fact that both the chorus and the flanging on this unit are a little thin, I now have the added advantage of the pitch shift facility which, I'm sure, in the future will prove invaluable - I've now access to much more versatility than if I'd invested in a purpose-built flanger unit, for instance.
In my opinion, the most under-rated effects come from Accessit. I have the stereo reverb, compressor and noise gate. The latter two are easy to operate and when working are relatively quiet and efficient - I have few complaints. The reverb is the same except twice as good - the parametric is a valuable asset and gives a lot of potential environment simulations. To think that the cost of these basic effects amounted to just over £200 - they are in my mind, comparable to units costing two to three times as much.
I only possess a couple of microphones as most of the work I do is DI'd. For vocal work I use an Audio-Technica Pro-3, which although it may be frowned upon by purists, suits me fine thanks. I also have an odd stereo electret mic which goes under a trademark of Ross, a subsidiary of Sony - correct me if I'm wrong, which I use for all other applications; for drums and miked up amps. When I set up my studio commercially, I have a friend who can lend me a wide selection of conventional microphones if I require them.
Instrumentally speaking, I consider myself a competent guitarist and an inventive, yet pathetic keyboardist, but in the past I've had a go at anything - with varying results. Pride of place in this department goes jointly to the Juno 6 (certainly the wisest move I've made as far as investments go - it can't be faulted on anything) and the recently acquired Sequential Circuits Drumtraks digital drum machine - the facility for tuning each separate voice certainly makes it the most versatile unit on the market for the price, and the sounds themselves compete equally with the rest of the competition.
I also use a Westone Thunder III guitar, a Satellite Precision copy, Lorenzo acoustic, a mandolin, Roland Bassline (which I've never actually had the time to get into properly), and an array of biscuit tins which, when miked and gated, make wonderful impersonations of timbales. With the abundance of more and more silly percussion instruments, the amassed din is frequently in excess of infernal. However in all seriousness the quality of the finished demos continues to go from strength to strength. It's amazing what you can stumble across by accident. For instance - bouncing backing vocal tracks with the A-8's noise reduction switched out, and then on playback, bringing the Dolby back in circuit, results in a very crisp and chipmunk-like conglomeration.
As I've mentioned before, I'm thinking of setting up commercially - providing a cheap, yet efficient demo service for the amateur (students and the like) and semi-pro who can't afford or just simply don't want to go into a full-blown studio. Besides this I am a third of an essentially studio-based band called 'Suuka' - we had a single released last October; and I've recently delved into the very competitive A.V. Industry via a local group known as 'Arts Action', and am at present researching for the composition of music for a two hour fashion extravaganza planned to be held in September.
Feature by Kevin Hook
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